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Read all the latest news and announcements from Northern Ireland Opera.

Northern Ireland Opera presents a new series of short films, ‘Northern Songs’

Northern Ireland Opera is to release eight short films, featuring songs composed by Northern Irish composers, performed in some of the most beautiful and historic locations around the country by opera singers from that area. The first film will release at 8pm on Thursday October 22nd on our YouTube channel.

Four opera singers, Giselle Allen (Belfast), Doreen Curran (Derry/Londonderry), Carolyn Dobbin (Co. Antrim) and Ben McAteer (Co Down) have worked with Northern Ireland Opera and pianist Ruth McGinley (Derry/Londonderry) to create eight beautiful films directed by Marty Stalker and produced by Causeway Pictures.

Locations include Belfast Castle, Titanic Belfast, Derry Walls, the Peace Bridge, Glenarm Castle, Dunluce Castle, Newcastle and Silent Valley, with composers including Hamilton Harty, Carl Hardebeck, Herbert Hughes and Percy French and familiar songs including ‘Danny Boy’, ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ and ‘Star of the County Down’.

Northern Ireland Opera brings together the talent, beauty and history here by using established and well-known opera singers in their home towns or counties, performing music celebrating their location and filmed in the exceptional landscapes and historic locations in which this country is so rich.  It is hoped that these films will reach a wide audience and showcase to people across this island and beyond the wealth of culture, talent and world-class locations available to visit once the public health crisis has abated. It is planned to visit each county in Northern Ireland to produce further films in 2021, funding allowing.

You can watch ‘Northern Songs’ each Thursday as they release weekly from October 22nd on our YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/northernirelandopera. The first film launches on Thursday 22nd at 8pm and features mezzo-soprano Carolyn Dobbin singing ‘The Blue Hills’ by Hamilton Harty at Dunluce Castle in her home county of Co. Antrim.

Ciaran Scullion, Head of Music, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented, “Northern Songs is a really special initiative from Northern Ireland Opera which beautifully fuses together songs and places throughout Northern Ireland, breathing fresh life into some of our most-treasured songs and performed by some of the region’s most talented singers and musicians.  We are delighted to support Northern Ireland Opera and very much look forward to enjoying these wonderful musical moments in the weeks ahead.”

Naomi Waite, Tourism NI Marketing Director added: “We are delighted to support Northern Ireland Opera as they bring to life some of the most iconic sites across Northern Ireland through the exceptional talent of our local opera singers. These videos immerse viewers in our rich history, culture and awe-inspiring landscapes and showcase the giant voices of our local musicians. We look forward to more opportunities to support the arts community in Northern Ireland, like this project that truly tells the story of our giant spirit.”

Chris Patterson, Global Content Producer, Causeway Pictures said, ‘Causeway Pictures are delighted to have collaborated with Northern Ireland Opera in helping to bring these songs to a wide audience through film, especially since during the current public health crisis, live performance has been restricted.’

Roy Bailie, Chairman of Northern Ireland Opera commented, ‘Combining the beauty of our coastal urban and rural landscapes, the heritage of our buildings and places, with the drama of some of our finest singers, Northern Ireland Opera is proud to present this short series of films, ‘Northern Songs’. As one of Northern Ireland’s leading arts companies, the link with tourism and the economy is critical as we strive to emerge into a post-Covid world and allow people everywhere to share the vivacity and giant spirit of this place.’

Find out more and watch the first film here.

Northern Ireland Opera appoints new Artistic Director

Roy Bailie, Chairman of Northern Ireland Opera has announced that the Company has chosen the award-winning Australian director Cameron Menzies to be the next Artistic Director of the Company.

Cameron Menzies is currently Artistic Director of The Classics Opera for City of Stonnington and Associate Artist/Director for Diva Opera (UK). Previously, he has been engaged by companies including Deutsche Oper, Opera Australia, Victorian Opera, Short Black Opera Company (Australia’s National Indigenous Company), London Philharmonic Orchestra and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre London.

Mr Menzies has been nominated for and received many awards including the Berlin New Music Opera award (2011), Bayreuth Opera Award for Opera Foundation Australia and a Sydney Award in 2016 for the best direction of Pecan Summer Australia’s first Indigenous Opera. His critically acclaimed productions for Diva Opera, which include Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Giovanni,  Die Fledermaus and La Bohème have since 2014, toured extensively in the UK, France, Monte Carlo and The Channel Islands. He has also directed Le Nozze di Figaro in Cape Town for the company, and has worked professionally in Japan and China.

In a career that encompasses opera, theatre, music theatre, cabaret and film-making, Cameron Menzies has also directed the world premiere of several children’s operas and has considerable experience in mentoring and working with emerging artists.

Commenting on his appointment he said

‘I am extremely honoured and thrilled to be joining Northern Ireland Opera as the newly appointed Artistic Director. I wish to thank Chairman, Roy Bailie for the extraordinary opportunity to steer this dynamic and unique company into its next chapter. I look forward to working with the arts community across Ireland and further abroad. Live performance is facing one of its biggest challenges at the moment and I hope to be able to provide as many opportunities as we can with Northern Ireland Opera as we navigate the way ahead.’                          ‘

Roy Bailie, Chairman of Northern Ireland Opera said

‘At the end of an extensive process, with several outstanding candidates, I am delighted to announce the appointment of Cameron Menzies. We welcome him most warmly and look forward to everything he will bring to opera in Northern Ireland and beyond’.

Roisin McDonagh, CEO of The Arts Council of Northern Ireland commented

‘Congratulations to Cameron on this exciting new appointment. We very much look forward to seeing him take Northern Ireland Opera into its next phase, drawing on his impressive international experience to bringing innovative and captivating productions to local audiences’

Patron of Northern Ireland Opera, BBC Radio 3 presenter Sean Rafferty said

‘This is a tremendous appointment for Northern Ireland opera and I am certain that in Cameron Menzies we have found an Artistic Director that will bring new vision and vivacity to this extraordinary company’s work’

A Tribute to Heather Harper

By Alf McCreary

The Chairman of Northern Ireland Opera, Roy Bailie, paid tribute to the world-famous Ulster soprano Heather Harper following a moving ceremony in Cushendun recently when her ashes were scattered by her former husband Eduardo Benarroch near the house where she and her family spent part of the Second World War as evacuees from Belfast.

Mr Bailie said “From Belfast to Bayreuth, in every major opera house and on every concert platform, Heather Harper  was the radiant voiced Belfast-born soprano who was one of the best-loved and respected artists of her generation.

“Northern Ireland has produced many fine singers, but none of the significance of Heather Harper. From her early work singing the Baroque repertoire to the famous Britten War Requiem and his television operas, she became an articulate and moving interpreter of Wagner and Strauss.

“However she never forgot her Northern Ireland roots, and she returned frequently to sing with the Ulster Orchestra in the Ulster Hall in Belfast. This was a truly thrilling experience for any of us present who were privileged to hear her. To Northern Ireland Opera, our artists and young singers, she was quite simply a cultural icon. Her artistry, professionalism and commitment are exactly the qualities we all aspire to. This was an artist of whom Northern Ireland will be forever proud.”

During the farewell ceremony the distinguished  Ulster-born  mezzo-soprano Carolyn Dobbin sang beautifully Sir Hamilton Harty’s arrangement of “My Lagan Love.” Carolyn, who has sung for Northern Ireland Opera, Castleward Opera and Irish National Opera, is due to sing with Bryn Terfel in “Der Fleigende Hollander” at a later date. Carolyn is a passionate advocate of the music of Northern Ireland composers and has established the Northern Ireland Song Project.

Mr Benarroch had flown in from  London for the ceremony, with his fellow Argentinian friend Augustin Blanco-Bazan who also knew Heather. Eduardo said “I found it all terribly moving, and I am grateful to the people  who attended the farewell to share with  us in paying our last respects to Heather.  She was a world-class artist but also a lovely person with a great sense of humour. She was someone who called a spade a spade, and that came from her Ulster roots.”

Photo credits: copyright Alan Lewis

Eduardo Benarroch with mezzo-soprano Carolyn Dobbin who performed at the scattering of the ashes ceremony. Copyright Alan Lewis.

Northern Ireland Opera School Outreach Programme 2020/21

This year’s school outreach programme will necessarily be slightly different to our usual outreach interactions. We have adapted our workshops to be compliant with the public health regulations and are finding ways to deliver workshops which will enrich the curriculum, encourage teamwork and enhance communication and self-expression skills amongst the children taking part.

We are very much looking forward to regular engagement, at least once a term, with each of our partner schools.  The outreach engagements will be supported by our Associate Artists, who are all alumni of our past productions or our NI Opera Studio programme. Our partner schools for 2020/21 include:

Ardnashee School (Derry/Londonderry)
Botanic Primary School (Belfast)
Fane Street Primary School (Belfast)
Foyle College (Derry/Londonderry)
Harmony Hill Primary School (Lisburn)
Holy Cross Boys Primary School (Belfast)
Malone College (Belfast)
St Cecilias’s College (Derry/Londonderry)
St Louis Grammar (Kilkeel)
St Ronan’s College (Lurgan)

Over lockdown and in the first term of school, our first activities will consist of online tutorials, socially distant workshops and school performances. These include:

The Power of Rhythm 

Using body percussion, our school encounters will focus on how rhythm can be a vehicle for self expression, but also a useful way to unpack words and poetry, and to see and intuitively understand simple numbered patterns, tying into our key objectives – enhanced literacy and numeracy. These workshops have the added bonus of being safely deliverable while singing is still off limits.

Words and Music

Our next phase of engagement specifically connects words and music together in composition and song writing workshops that use students’ favourite songs to form and disrupt patterns. This will again tie into literacy and numeracy.

Make It!

This phase of engagement encourages participants to stage every element of an ‘opera’ – from writing lyrics and composing music to considering staging and elements of production (using art and design). Harnessing the collective talents of the group, ‘Make It!’ shows students how to break down and create music theatre, with incidental benefits to self esteem / self expression, but also real benefits to literacy and numeracy as the group contends with complex logistical problem solving.

We look forward to updating you with our progress through the year here and via our Outreach and Education pages on this website.

The Festival of Voice 2020 takes place in Belfast: winners announced.

Live opera returned to Belfast in front of a small socially distanced audience last night at The Festival of Voice 2020 in the First Church Belfast. This is the first time live opera has been performed in the city with an audience since before the lockdown.
Five finalists from across the island of Ireland competed for the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize and to become the Northern Ireland Opera Voice of 2020.  David Corr, a baritone from Dublin who is a current member of the Northern Ireland Opera Studio won the overall prize and Andrew Irwin, a tenor from County Fermanagh, won the Audience Prize.
The other three finalists were soprano Jade Phoenix, mezzo Sarah Luttrell and bass-baritone David Howes. NI Opera’s Patron, broadcaster Sean Rafferty, presented the awards. A short film about the event with concert highlights will be released on Northern Ireland Opera’s YouTube channel at 8 p.m. on 13th September.  For further information about the Festival please follow this link. https://www.niopera.com/events/the-festival-of-voice-2020/.